Venezuela's Guaido blasts Maduro over opposition crackdown

Andrea TOSTA and Diego URDANETA
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Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido (center) accuses Nicolas Maduro's regime of 'state terrorism'

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido (center) accuses Nicolas Maduro's regime of 'state terrorism' (AFP Photo/RONALDO SCHEMIDT)

Caracas (AFP) - Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido accused President Nicolas Maduro's regime on Thursday of "dismantling" parliament after three lawmakers sought diplomatic refuge while another was arrested for treason.

"If we can talk about a coup d'etat in Venezuela, here it is: the dismantling of the national parliament," Guaido told a news conference, accusing Maduro's regime of "state terrorism."

Guido, who considers himself the country's legitimate acting leader, spoke out after opposition lawmakers Richard Blanco, Mariela Magallanes and Americo De Grazia sought refuge in the Argentine and Italian embassies in Caracas.

They are among 10 National Assembly members charged with treason for supporting Guaido's call for a military revolt on April 30.

The group also includes Edgar Zambrano, vice-president of Venezuela's opposition-controlled parliament, who was seized by intelligence agents on Wednesday night.

Guaido led around 30 members of the armed forces in trying to spark an insurrection to dislodge Maduro 10 days ago, but while it provoked two days of deadly clashes, it quickly fizzled out.

Venezuela was plunged into turmoil in January when Guaido declared himself acting president in a direct challenge to Maduro's authority.

He has since been recognized by more than 50 countries as he steps up the pressure to oust Maduro, whom he considers illegitimate after 2018 elections widely seen as fraudulent.

Guaido called for a national demonstration on Saturday to reject measures taken by the Supreme Court against opposition lawmakers.

- 'We're not going to stop' -

"To make themselves look strong, to give the impression of a control they don't have, what is the only tool they've used for years?" he asked, referring to the Maduro regime.

"Terror, state terrorism," said Guaido, whose own parliamentary immunity has been stripped by the Supreme Court.

"We're not going to stop, we're going to stay in the streets. This is a process that will end with Venezuela's liberty."

Maduro, though, has remained steadfast, propped up by Venezuela's powerful military high command and all branches of government except the sidelined National Assembly.

Zambrano's arrest on Wednesday night was both bizarre and dramatic, with the lawmaker commenting on events live on Twitter as it happened.

The 64-year-old's car was surrounded outside his Democratic Action Party's headquarters before it was towed, with him still in it, to the notorious Helicoide prison, within the headquarters of Venezuela's SEBIN intelligence agency.

"Democrats, keep up the fight!" tweeted Zambrano as images of the arrest circulated on social media.

- 'Kidnapped' -

On Wednesday Guaido accused the regime of having "kidnapped" Zambrano. The European Union and several Latin American states echoed his criticism while the US called for his immediate release.

"This is an attack on the independence of the nation's democratically elected legislative branch and is part of the Maduro regime's continued attempts to crush dissent and free debate in Venezuela," US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

"This assault on the National Assembly should serve as a clarion call to the region and the world that the dictatorship is not interested in constitutional solutions to the Venezuelan people's problems."

Even Mexico, which has steadfastly maintained its recognition for Maduro as Venezuelan president, voiced its "concern" over Zambrano's treatment.

Venezuela's Attorney General Tarek William Saab says the two days of clashes that followed Guaido's unsuccessful revolt left six people dead.

The Constituent Assembly, which Maduro created to sideline the National Assembly, has said it will suspend the immunity of any lawmakers who backed the uprising.

Venezuela has suffered five years of recession that has seen more than 2.7 million people flee poverty, hyperinflation, food shortages and insecurity since 2015, according to United Nations figures.